Reading Dara Wier’s You Good Thing, I felt “physically as if the top of my head were taken off,” not only on the first read, but also on each subsequent read. She begins the book with a sketch and an epigraph—“by the longest route possible”—taken from a photographic biography of Fernando Pessoa. The poems do wander, but Wier—I still haven’t figured out how she does this—manages to make this wandering incredibly intense and cohesive. The poems are expansive and intimate, the tone is distant and tender, and the images are decontextualized and vivid. You Good Thing, like most of Wier’s work, renders the personal and the universal simultaneously, and this quality sets her work apart with the best poetry of our time.
The speaker of You Good Thing roams with and within the “you” of the poems while searching for the “you” of the poems; in other words, the relationship between the speaker and the you closely resembles most intimate relationships. “Not a Verbal Equivalent” starts the collection with misdirection: “You said one thing as a way of not saying something else. / You wrote something so that other things wouldn’t be written.” The poem ends with “[s]kid marks on the / [c]urve in the road that will point us slowly into a nearby cave.” After the attempt to stop implied by the skid marks, the poem leaves a slow motion image of an airborne vehicle but also of investigators attempting to determine the trajectory of the vehicle that left the marks. The ambiguity of the cave is kind. We can think of the cave as confirmation of someone’s demise, or we can think of it as a shelter. Perhaps both.
As the collection progresses, the you takes several forms, wears disguises, and lies occasionally , yet the intent seems neither malicious nor evasive; rather, these disguises and lies seem like attempts at revelation. If the beloved isn’t trying to reveal itself, the speaker attempts to reveal it by recognizing it in things. Wier writes, “This disguise you’ve adopted has its advantages,” and in another poem, “Someone kind would tell us lies we could live with.” “Blind Eyes in No-Man’s-Land,” begins, “You are much like a rubber tombstone in a hailstorm,” and ends, “You’re a silk tombstone nearby which a child’s blowing out a match.” Even taken out of context, the last line is chillingly beautiful. These metamorphoses lead the speaker on, in all senses of that expression. The speaker insists that “we can sense /[w]here you are much as we sense when we’re coming near a river’s edge.” Slightly irritated, she continues:
You leave tracks, you leave evidence, you leave trails to tantalize and
We suppose to keep us wanting to find you. Do you suppose we have
Little else to do with our lives?
Similarly, in “A Shambles,” the speaker asks, “By now aren’t you weary of keeping your secrets? / Surely there is some other way.” At the end of “Riverine,” the dissolving speaker concedes that “we’re breath broke.”
A transition in the relationship occurs in “Stargazer:”
And in the evening’s sudden stillness I breathed in your ear.
From now on out everything gets said in a whisper. If you like
If you want if you care to come closer. This way is better.
Although no perfect union occurs, at least in the traditional sense, by the time we reach “In Oval Mirrors We Cruise through Touch-Me-Nots,” the speaker finds herself buried in vines that fall from the “[e]yes’ sad shutters.” She marvels, “How / [c]arefully they begin to encircle my ankles, how tenderly they climb. By / [m]orning I’ll be hidden. You may or may not know me deep within them.” In these lines, the speaker and the you synthesize in the vines. They cohabitate in the vegetation, and although they are uncertain that they will recognize each other, they share a space.
In the collection’s final poem, “Epitaphic,” the you races away, but even this flight animates those people left in its wake. A kind of emotional or spiritual drafting occurs, and they carry on. These “velocities” “sway” the speaker. She says, “[Y]ou go on as you were into the hills /[i]Into this river leaving us with little to do with our hands.” Like the other knockout endings in the collection, this one appears heartbreaking, but on closer analysis, it becomes evident that the you hasn’t completely abandoned the speaker. He or she goes on in “this river,” suggesting a kind of flowing omnipresence. Although the speaker can’t touch this being, the courtship continues.
The poems in You Good Thing convey a strong sense of place without being anywhere in particular. As Wier writes, “Here does move more than one would suppose.” In “Restoration of an Individual Conulariid,” she writes, “The more specific it is, the more difficult it becomes.” Alluding to Dickinson’s poem 632, “Wier writes, “You asked me to try to / Imagine as far as imagination can bear.” In the collection, imagination and memory converge to reveal places within places, making the familiar strange and the strange familiar.
In this locale, one finds many windows and doors, a common motif in the collection. Wier writes, “Our walls were to our windows what our minds were to our mouths.” In “At Issue Were the Ways We Would Welcome Them,” the speaker tells us, “You turned to kiss me as / [a] door slid between us. My face was reflected on yours in blue glass.” In “Another Way to Look at It,” the speaker says, “You’ll / [k]now me better later, after I’ve gone through one of the shut black doors.” In some poems, the you becomes windows and doors: “All of a sudden you turn out / [t]o be every window and door.” These transitional spaces provide the speaker the opportunity to escape from and to abide with her lover.
To call the poems in You Good Thing “surrealist love poems” would be neither accurate nor fair, though they do seem to resonate with the best of Desnos and Breton. “Preemptive Grieving” tells us, “You’ll need to / [i]nvent a new language,” and the poems do that by “convers[ing] and invers[ing] and walk[ing] like the mechanics / [o]f mystery they are.” They help us address the “near presence” of shadows in which we perpetually dwell. Whether the beloved is another person, god, or the world itself, we live in a perpetual cycle of pursuit, a path that loops and loops, and in its looping leaves us in ecstasy and despair. For this journey, You Good Thing is “our lullaby…our unnameable anthem.”
You Good Thing, by Dara Wier. Seattle, Washington: Wave Books, 2013. 64 pages. $16.00, paper.
Jordan Sanderson earned a PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi in 2007. His poems have appeared in several journals, including Caketrain, Double Room, The Fiddleback, Phantom Limb, and Spectrum, and his reviews and criticism have appeared in The Hollins Critic, Rain Taxi, and other journals. He currently lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where he teaches English.